A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 September 19, 1991



A report on the First Citizens Conference on Dioxin

September 21-22, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

We hoped, of course, but in our wildest dreams we did not expect this Conference to be as successful as it eventually turned out to be. Not only did nearly 300 people come from over half the states in the USA, but they came from Sweden, Holland, Germany, England, Canada and Puerto Rico. And many citizens who were not able to attend were certainly there in spirit and made it possible through their citizen’s group sponsorship. In fact, over half the funding came from grass roots groups. Thank you all.

United against dioxin: from Dr. Barry Commoner, America’s leading environmentalist to Admiral Zumwalt, who okayed the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam. We heard from a list of speakers ranging in experience from Dr. Barry Commoner to Admiral Zumwalt; from Swedish cancer specialist Dr. Lennart Hardell, who did the pioneering epidemiological studies on Soft Tissue Sarcoma, to Gerson Smoger, a lawyer, who has just won a case in which he proved that a man died from exposure to dioxin (See Waste Not #158, “$1.5 million dioxin award”). A cornucopia of great speakers - not all famous - not all experts - but all there to tell the truth on dioxin as they had studied it or experienced it first hand. And the truth on dioxin is not easy to get these days from the media, from industry or from a number of government officials, who appear to be serving the interests of certain industries, even while they draw their salaries from the taxpayers’ purse.

Jacksonville, Arkansas. While the truth was often simple, the impact was devastating. No one who attended this conference will ever forget the moment when Jeff Shelton, a very shy man from Jacksonville, Arkansas, told us quietly about the death of his 3-month old baby (in September 1987) thought to have been exposed to dioxin from contaminated well water used to make the baby’s formula. Even though one analytical laboratory registered high levels of dioxin in the baby’s tissues, the CDC refused to repeat the analysis, and instead they spent thousands of dollars in an attempt to discredit the lab’s analysis. Jeff appealed to the audience to help the people of Jacksonville stop a plan, sanctioned by the US EPA, to burn a large quantity of dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange waste in Jacksonville, a few hundred feet from where people are living, in an incinerator being run by a company that has never built or operated an incinerator before! What makes this plan so preposterous from the scientific point of view is that they will be burning large quantities of 2,4,5 trichlorophenol (used in the manufacture of Agent Orange) and so if there is any problem with the burning, the incinerator will end up producing more dioxin than is currently present in the waste. Moreover, the incinerator has already experienced many problems, including a seven foot crack in the furnace and repeated blocking of the nozzles delivering the waste to the kiln.

Scientists concur: Dioxin is a human health problem. From the panel, chaired by epidemiologist Dr. Richard Clapp, we heard many speakers establish that dioxin was a human health problem. We heard from scientists like Dr. George Lucier who told us that in his work at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, he has found no difference at the biochemical level between dioxin’s activity in animals and man, and moreover he has found no evidence for a “threshold” level for these effects. And we heard from Tom Webster, of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, and one of the organizers of the conference, that his calculations indicate that comparing the tissue levels of the exposed workers and their cancer rates in the NIOSH study (New England Journal of Medicine, January 29, 1991), that the US EPA cancer potency factor, derived from rats, and under attack from industry, is right on target. We also heard from the victims first hand. We learned that, whether they were Vietnam Vets exposed to Agent Orange, or lived in Times Beach, Missouri, or Jacksonville, Arkansas, they had suffered a double hemorrhage. On the one hand they had suffered numerous physical effects, and on the other, they had suffered the mental anguish of seeing their government officials hiding the truth. While lies are a part of the fabric of totalitarian regimes they shake the very foundations of a democratic society.

“Risk assessment is industry’s attempt to make the intolerable appear tolerable.” From a panel, chaired by Marc Smolonsky, the investigator of the House Sub Committee on Human Resources and Inter-Governmental Relations, we heard the sordid details of the dioxin cover-ups; the manipulations of the epidemiological studies from Monsanto and BASF; the White House memos; Vernon Houk’s miserable disservice to the soldiers who served in Vietnam and the machinations of the paper industry and the Chlorine Institute. In later panels, we heard about many bogus “health risk” assessments performed for incinerator emissions and pulp mill effluents. We also heard criticisms from a number of scientists including Dr. Commoner, Dr. Wasserman, Pat Costner, Joe Thornton and Tom Webster, of the whole idea of using “risk assessment” for these issues at all. As Dr. Mary O’Brien so eloquently put it, “Risk assessment is industry’s attempt to make the intolerable appear tolerable.”

Citizens concur: ban incineration and phase out chlorine from the paper and chlorine industries. Sunday’s session offered some hope and a new sense of direction. Dr. Barry Commoner told us we needed “To shift our focus to the front end of the problem.” We cannot ban dioxin, because no one makes it deliberately. So we have to start banning and phasing out processes that produce dioxin, and related compounds, as unwanted byproducts. This entails banning incineration and getting chlorine out of the paper and chemical industries. Richard Miller, a policy analyst from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) fired a salutary warning that if are to get chlorine out of the chemical industry, we are going to have to look after the displaced workers with a “superfund” to protect incomes and offer meaningful retraining. To do otherwise is to leave a vacuum which industry will fill with the wasteful “jobs versus environment” debate.

Our generation must stop “chlorinated cocktails” from being passed on to future generations. No one made more friends at the conference than Dr. Otmar Wassermann, the chairman of the Department of Toxicology at Kiel University in Germany. He exposed some of the sloppy thinking and shoddy science which is defending the massive “chlorinated cocktail” we are serving to our children, our grandchildren and the environment. It was so gratifying to hear from someone who had stood up against the tide and held onto his common sense, scientific integrity and his passion for a better vision for the environment.

Silent Spring to Silent Press: National media must begin to do its job. We think we speak for most of the attendees of this Conference when we say that we want the truth on the dioxin issue coupled with honest science and honest regulatory officials and a press that is willing to do its homework. Dioxin is the Watergate of molecules. We want a shift from “end-of-the pipe approaches” to the front end of the problem. Its not enough to regulate each chlorinated compound as we find out the exact damage to wildlife and human health it has caused. Our only hope to decrease the build-up of chlorinated organic compounds in the environment -and in mother’s breast milk - is to ban incineration and phase out chlorine from the paper and chemical industries, now. In this respect Dioxin is the red flag: the most toxic tip of a very big iceberg of thousands of other chlorinated compounds pouring into our environment at a rate of 40 million tons a year. This is a gigantic task we have taken on as the opposition is formidably strong, both financially and politically. But the lies, manipulations, machinations and the fraud are all telling us that we are on the right track. And this conference showed us that we have the people who can turn this around.

The proceedings of the Conference, along with a video,

will be made available as soon as possible.

WASTE NOT # 165 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US45; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.